Weird Al Yankovic Dishes On Gaga, Michael Jackson, McCartney And More
While most comedy artists quickly dissipate into one-hit-wonderdom, Weird Al Yankovic has continued to reign as the accordion-toting king of musical satire for over three decades now. In anticipation of Saturday's show at Verizon Wireless Theatre, Rocks Off chatted with Weird Al about Houston hip-hop, Michael Jackson and his upcoming album.
Weird Al: Helllloo!
Rocks Off: Hi, Al! It's a real honor to be speaking with you.
WA: Well, thanks!
RO: So you were valedictorian of your high school class and have a degree in architecture. We consider you one of our musical heroes, but you literally could have done anything you wanted with your life. What drew you to music?
WA: I enjoyed doing music and comedy, actually. Those were things I was always just drawn to and attracted to. I just never thought I'd be able to make living out of it. I just thought that any kind of career in show business was a pipe dream, that there were so few people who could actually make a living at that and that I shouldn't waste my time considering it, even though that was really what I was interested in.
So I went to college and got a degree in architecture because I had an aptitude for math, and I enjoyed my drafting class. And I had some aptitude for it, but my heart just wasn't in it. I found that other people in college, in the architecture labs, were just really passionate about architecture, and I just didn't have that kind of fire in my belly about it.
But I still enjoyed doing the comedy and music. I got a shift on the local campus radio station. I did the "Weird Al Show" every Saturday night. And I still tended to lean in that direction. And I didn't drop out of college. I got my degree in architecture, and the next couple of years were just a little confusing for me because I had this degree that I didn't think I was ever really going to use now.
And I decided to give the entertainment industry a shot and see what happened. But I just kind of didn't really know how my life was going to turn out at that point, because I was qualified for something I didn't want to do.
RO: We're dying to know what's going to be on your upcoming album. Lady Gaga is rumored to be a prime candidate for parody. Can you tell us a little about it?
WA: I'm really not at liberty to talk about the new album other than the five songs that came out last year in the Internet Leaks collection. The whole Lady Gaga thing is kind of funny to me because a couple weeks ago, some interviewer much like yourself asked: "So are you going to have any Lady Gaga on the new album?"
And I said: "Well, you know, Lady Gaga's certainly a popular artist, and with any artist that's popular, I have to consider that artist. All you have to do is look at the Billboard charts and who's at the top at those charts, and that's who I'm considering." And then the next day, in like 100 papers: "Weird Al's considering a Lady Gaga parody!" So that's how the media works, I guess.
RO: Our very own Chamillionaire was pretty impressed with your rapping chops on your wildly successful parody of "Ridin' Dirty." Are you a fan of Houston hip-hop?
WA: Absolutely, absolutely. I'm a fan of Chamillionaire's music and of him personally. He's a really nice guy, and I got to co-present with him a couple years ago at the American Music Awards.
I really love when I get to do parodies of artists like that because he definitely gets the joke. He understands it's an homage, it's a tribute, it's all done in good fun. And it's really terrific when I get to encounter an artist of that caliber who has that much of a sense of humor.
RO: Michael Jackson was a fan of your work, and we're sure you've been asked many times about his passing, but how did you view his untimely death?
WA: Well, like the rest of the world, I was shocked and greatly saddened. I mean, it was a huge loss for everybody, and it's still kind of hard to believe. Michael Jackson helped me out tremendously with my career by giving me a leg up and giving me his permission when a lot of other artists weren't even returning my phone calls.
To get that kind of thumbs-up from someone who was the biggest artist in the universe, that was a huge help, so I always credit Michael Jackson with tremendous support and help really, well, the whole time.
RO: Artists like Prince and Paul McCartney famously refused to grant you permission to record parodies of their work. Do you see any commonalities among those artists who don't seem too keen your brand of satire?
WA: Let me take Paul McCartney off the list because he doesn't deserve to be on the same list with Prince. Paul McCartney was all in favor of me doing a parody, but he just had a problem with my topic. I wanted to do a parody of "Live and Let Die" called "Chicken Pot Pie," and because he's a strict vegetarian, he felt uncomfortable with the subject matter. He said if I wanted to change to something other than chicken pot pie, he would be fine with it. But that was my best idea, so I passed on it.
And I should say that I actually got to direct Paul McCartney in a movie last year for Al's Brain, which was a little short 3-D movie that I made, and he was a terrific sport. Paul McCartney's been nothing but supportive and a great guy.
RO: We watched your "Fat" video again recently. One thing that struck us was the shock factor of how large that fat suit made you appear back then. But today it's fairly commonplace to see very large Americans walking our streets today. Considering our skyrocketing obesity rate, would the video be considered too un-PC by today's standards?
WA: Well, I don't know if it's any more un-PC now as it was then. There's always going to be people who are sensitive about such issues. I'd like to think that, number one, that my character was such an exaggeration, that not that many people could really identify with that character.
I mean, he's pretty morbidly obese. I mean, I feel sorry for the people who feel like they can relate to that particular guy, but they should probably get help at this point. And secondly, it wasn't really making fun of fat people so much. I like to think of it as an anthem. I think of it more as an empowering song as opposed to a song that would be mocking the plus-sized.
RO: Your first children's book is set to be published in March for HarperCollins. What is it about?
There's not a whole lot to tell about it. It's a 32-page picture book for kids. It's in rhyme, and it's called When I Grow Up. I don't want to give too much away, but I was told that I can tweet the cover of the book, so I'll probably do that in the next day or two.
8 p.m. Saturday, July 17, at Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas (Bayou Place), 713-230-1600 or livenation.com.
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